PAULthinksmusings by a feminist
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In the last month, I’ve heard a few women talk about how they aren’t going out on dates any more. One friend wasn’t sure what she wanted from her social life but wished someone would court her. Another just said she hadn’t been asked out in so long, she felt like people didn’t do that anymore. A third said it had been ages since a guy told her unabashedly, “I want to take you out.”

I’ve heard many more similar sentiments, but these three in particular are beautiful, clever, funny women. They don’t all live in DC, either, but do live on the US East Coast. (Does that matter?) Why aren’t these great women being asked out on dates?

This mystery spurred me on to write out this enormous post full of my thoughts on dating. If you’d like to skip all the wordiness and jump to the bullet points, you can just click here. Else, please continue…

I figure there are few possibilities: One, maybe straight guys are getting lazy. They’re taking advantage of the drunken hookup to get their physical needs met or just using pornography to relieve their frustrations by themselves or just find the idea of going on dates too daunting. They’re guys who don’t want to put effort into dating so they don’t. Flirting’s easy, dating requires at least a little work.

Two, maybe straight men are intimidated by the prospect of dating these women. Especially if the guys don’t have any ideas about what to do on dates or how to ask for them. It’s possible that a guy would just avoid doing something than appear to suck at it, right?

Three, maybe women are letting men get away with it. I’ve been told that, in the DC area, it’s a guy’s market since there are so many more single ladies than fellas around here. Instead of scoffing at “hanging out”, perhaps women are going along with non-dating encounters just so they can have some companionship. It’s the customer’s-always-right attitude of getting business for yourself instead of letting it go to a competitor, but with romance.

Are there other possible reasons? Tell me what you think. I’ve thought about this since a couple of years ago, when I started following @Apocalypstik after her “Does anybody date anymore?” post went viral. Her viewpoint is funny and interesting there, but didn’t offer much besides protest.

I want to say, before going any further, that I think women need to let go of pointless old traditions and start asking guys out more. Some women do this, but it’s still rare, even among my fairly modern-minded friends. I’m going to do a separate blog post just about it.

And as an aside, I participate in swing dancing, which is a transient activity full of nomadic members. Someone might come into DC to be here for a weekend, a month, a summer. They meet local dancers, hang out with us, and then go on their way. DC attracts temporary residents in general, really. Folks are here for a few years for a variety of reasons and then they leave. Perhaps that’s a part of it, too. Do people think that dating is only to be done as the first step on a path to multi-year or life-long relationships? If there’s an expiration date on someone’s residency, does it stop them from going on dates?

That’s some weak excuse there, if that’s the case. Like I said in my earlier post, Avoiding Beginning For Fear of Ending is stupid. You could get hit by a truck tomorrow or it could run down that person you’re crushing on. This is true for everyone, everywhere, all the time! (Although “truck” might be replaceable with “murder”, “revolution”, “deployment”, etc. depending on the circumstance.) So, if you’re attracted to someone, do something about it right now.

As to what you should do? I try to avoid telling people that there’s a good or right way to do things (outside of, you know, don’t commit atrocities). As long as you don’t hurt yourself or others, do and be what you want. Have non-dates, hook up on couches, never kiss sober, and plan no further ahead than a few minutes if you want… But that’s not what I do.

Disclaimer: I don’t know if anyone would consider me “successful” at dating. It’s just what I do. That’s not to say I dislike one-night-stands or casual hook-ups — both are great. But as a non-drinker who hates crowds, I don’t think I’m very good at making either of those scenarios happen. For that matter, while I try very hard to stick to these steps, sometimes I skip something in the heat of the moment. For the most part, though, here’s my approach.

Deciding
If I can look a woman in the face, then I can figure out pretty readily whether I want to ask her out on a date. I can tell whether or not I find her positive, clever, funny, vivacious, and attractive. To those women, I’ll say, “I like you! May I take you out on a date?” No weasel words, no real likelihood of misunderstanding, just an outright request for a date.

But if a woman piques my interest and I’ve either never met her in person or it’s been a long while, I’ll just ask to get together and avoid use of the word “date”. This would apply to women on dating sites, on twitter, bloggers, etc. Why? Because words are important.

Not every woman thinks this way, but labeling a get-together as a date tends to attach connotations to the occasion: whoever calls it a date is attracted to the other, they have hopes for some sort of affectionate interaction ranging from a kiss to a sexual encounter, dates are often pursued in a series, and so on. I’ve found that healthy relationships also generally arise from dates rather than out of casual encounters.

If I ask a woman on a date, I’m implying that I’m interested in some of those possibilities from giving her a kiss to becoming her boyfriend. It doesn’t mean that any of those things will happen; it just means my interest is somewhere in there. If I ask a woman to join me out without the label? It could mean I’m trying to figure out whether I want to ask her on a date. That’s not to say every instance when I spend time with a woman is some sort of date-evaluation; I’ve interviewed women, caught up with old friends, provided and been provided with some friend-therapy– all of those occasions really weren’t pre-dates. I’m just saying it’s a possibility.

Once on a pre-date, if I find I want to kick it up to a date, I’ll ask if we can do that explicitly. Because I don’t think it’s fair to trick a woman into it. She should feel free to say she just thinks of us as friends / doesn’t feel that way towards me. Or if I get to the end of the not-a-date and I find I’m interested in more, then I’ll ask for a date to happen next. Again — this gives the woman opportunity to say she’s not interested.

And nobody’s entitled to anybody else’s interest. But let’s say I find someone who does turn out to be interested. Then comes…

Date Preparation
First date, third date, fifteenth date, or dating anniversary, I try to come up with an actual plan. Not just a goal, but an idea of how to go from meeting my date to a thing, and then maybe to other things, and then an idea of how the night will end.

A couple important guidelines that I keep in mind: 1) the THINGS aren’t as important as enjoying my date’s company and that she enjoys mine. 2) be adaptable enough that if the THINGS aren’t going well or she wants to do something else or an unforeseen obstacle prevents us from doing them, we can deviate without it being a big deal.

A simple example of flexibility is that I once came up with first date plans to go to a park containing a lake and walk around the water chatting before going to a Thai place for dinner. My date countered with the suggestion that we go to a section of the Potomac River to explore instead, and then go to that restaurant. Obviously, this is minor, but it shows what I mean. (It was a good date!)

In narrowing my ideas for a date, I try to think of activities that I think we’d both enjoy, with an inconvenience factor that’s proportional to her interest in me, ideally that she doesn’t do all the time, and some fallback options. The fallback options and the rest are probably self-explanatory. The proportional inconvenience might need elaboration.

What I mean is the more she’s invested in going on a date with me, the easier it’ll be for her to enjoy something that takes a lot of effort from her or pushes her out of her comfort zone. The less certain she is, the harder it’ll be for her to enjoy a complicated date. On first dates, I aim for stuff that’s near where she lives and requires no more preparation than she’d normally need to go out with with friends. Later dates can take longer to get to and might require special clothes or other preparation without annoying her.

Going to a restaurant near her home: easy first date. Going tubing in another state: maybe a fourth or fifth date. Going away for a weekend: maybe when she’s considering accepting the girlfriend label. This isn’t a hard and fast rule and some women are quicker to invest their interest than others, but it’s something I keep in mind.

I usually start by asking her when she’s free for a date. Some advisors say that you should ask if the woman wants to do a particular thing on a particular day and time and then let her turn you down if she can’t make it so you can offer something else. I wonder if those advice-givers only know women with uneventful lives? Most of the women I try to date have full lives and full schedules, so I generally ask for a free timeframe and then come up with a plan to fit there. But you can go either way.

The Date
Notes to self (and other daters): Be awesome. Be funny. Gauge her reactions to physical contact and provide whatever she seems to find acceptable or desirable. If the date’s enjoyable, ask for another one before this one’s done. Whenever the physical logistics allow and you want to do it, move in for a kiss. If she turns away or backs off, just smile and don’t push it. If at first, you don’t succeed, STOP. Don’t be an ass about it. There’s tradition enough that you can try one more time at the very end of the date, but to repeat: if she’s not into it, back off.

But if she is into it, be there in that kiss. Everything else is nice, but the kiss is about the truest audition you’ll get. Don’t freak out about it, don’t worry about it, don’t rush it, don’t try to go for something more than that, just kiss. Kiss well. Kiss like you mean it. And do mean it.

If she’s hesitant to stop, it’s up to you to decide whether you’d like to ask for more. You could ask to go back to her place or keep kissing wherever you are or whatever else makes sense. If she backs off after the kiss, then you’re done. Hopefully, she’ll go out with you again.

After the Date and Final Thoughts
I can’t believe you read this far. Thank you!

If I had a good date and want another, I’ll make it clear before the good one is over. If I didn’t feel sparks, I’ll just thank my date and move on with my life. The rule of thumb I give myself is: if we didn’t kiss, I don’t need to give an explanation for not asking for another one. If we did kiss or if I said I wanted to go out again, and I change my mind? Then I owe my date at least a simple, “I’m sorry but I don’t think I’m really feeling a spark. But thank you for the date!”

If one date leads to another, they should escalate in affection. A hug should lead to a kiss, which should lead to more passionate kissing, which should lead to whatever two consenting and enthusiastic adults feel is appropriate. If there’s no escalation, then I think it does both people a disservice to drag it out for more than a few dates. One of you might be keeping the other from dating someone who will set off those sparks!

To wrap up:
1) It should only take me one pre-date to determine if there’s interest. If I’m not sure, then there’s my answer.
2) If I want a date, I should be an adult and ask for one and plan it out. Even if it’s just a simple plan.
3) If I enjoy the date, I should ask for another before it’s over.
4) Kiss well or go home.
5) Escalate if you’re both interested or disengage.
6) I am never ever entitled to anything. Nobody ever owes me anything.
7) Be awesome.

Whether man or woman, straight or queer, cis or trans, if you’re attracted to someone, I hope my ideas help you act on that attraction. If you like the steps I wrote out in my approach, I hope you hold out for them instead of settling for something you don’t like as much, or enact them yourself. Hell, link a prospective date to this page and maybe it’ll give them some ideas.

But whether you want to ask someone out on a date or you want to get asked out, I hope you don’t settle for less. I hope you get the date you want!

featured image from flickr.

About Paul Roth

A vegetarian, agnostic, lindy-hopping, dog-loving tv-watcher who likes to read his own words.
This entry was posted in All, General, Life, Relationships and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

15 Responses to To Court, To Date, To Makeout

  1. Carrie says:

    Thoughtful post, Paul.

    A couple of points in response to Jason and to the primary post generally:

    I have to say that once you are married with a child, it’s those memories of exciting and interesting dates that keep you going when mundane is all you have. Trust me, there is plenty of time for the grocery store or (really not enough time) for reading on the couch together.

    Also, after much, much online dating, I found that one of the best ways for me to gauge a man’s interest and potential commitment level was by the amount of planning or effort he would put into dates. In fact, to a certain extent, I suspect that my expectations of him contributed to his attraction to me and later to his level of commitment.

    Finally, I might not make many friends among feminists here, but there is a biological, hormonal differece between men and women that is beneficial to consider when thinking about romantic relationships between men and women. I don’t believe it is a disservice to a woman to use her awareness of that difference to her advantage. It wasn’t until I realized how useful that information was, that I was able to really narrow the field and find out for myself what I was looking for in a partner.

    • Paul Roth says:

      Thanks, Carrie! Love your insight and take on the planning a guy puts into dates in particular. It reassures me, unsurprisingly.

    • Jason says:

      I feel I should clarify to both you and Paul.

      I did not mean to imply that there is no need or desire for me to have special nights/days/weeks off on adventures with a potential life partner. Honestly, I wouldn’t want to be part of a drab relationship that drab either.

      But those adventures and experiences are the spice of life. The dessert. Not the main course.

      I find it a fairly reasonable assumption that most people I meet like warm chocolate cake and a scoop of ice cream (barring dietary concerns). My point is that I find that taking someone I consider interesting on a whirlwind tour of ice cream parlors, sweet shops, and fondue joints – ie dating – is not helpful in evaluating the overriding question I want answered: will we make each other happy in the grocery store when all the bells and whistles of an adventure are stripped away.

      To turn what you said on it’s head, I believe there is plenty of time for the ice cream shop… later.

  2. Kelly says:

    This is a great, well-written post on dating. But I’d like to reiterate the point that a lot of other people have made that there’s no “one size fits all” approach to dating. Me? I’m a planner too. Even if a guy asks me out, I still end up planning the date because I generally know of more places and events, so if they know me well enough, they defer to me to plan. Which, by the way, I don’t mind doing, but I like it when a dude steps up and puts the energy into the date.

    I have no qualms whatsoever about asking a gentleman out if I like him, but, I’m definitely a lot more careful about who I ask out now than I was 10 years ago. I’m pretty much done with any wham bam thank you, ma’am shenanigans at this point and I agree that I’d like to get to know the person as somewhat of a friend before I ask if they’d be interested in a date.

    That being said, I don’t like to let the friendship get too deep into the “just friends” thing because then I wind up in the quandary I’m in now: Someone who is one of my closest friends who I’ve developed some feelings for, but I’m worried about saying anything because I really wouldn’t want to mess up this wonderful friendship we have. I have a sneaking suspicion he feels the same way too, but I have no way of knowing.

    Anyway. Yeah, if I like someone and think there could be something interesting, I’ll typically make a move. However, I haven’t been proper asked out on a date for a long time and I find it annoying and confounding. Why would I want to put any energy into something if they’re too lazy to even attach a label to an outing? I effing hate it when someone asks if I want to “hang out.” What is that? Hanging out is the sweatpants of the dating world. It’s just so lazy.

    This is starting to get ranty. Unlike your blog, which was really great, this feels very disjointed, but I’m going to post as is because, well, I’m lazy 😀

    • Paul Roth says:

      I like your ranty comment, Kelly! And you touch on a couple topics that I plan to examine in future posts: concerns about whether women should ask out men, and transitioning from friends to dating.

  3. Jason says:

    Well here is a reason you haven’t touched on, although I believe I am going to be one of just a handful of people for whom this reason holds true.

    I find the concept of dating before developing a friendship to be bullshit.

    I am not some person who regularly goes out to nice restaurants. I don’t make it a habit of going out to the zoo. And when I catch a play, it’s always something I mean to see and never a I have nothing better to do on a Saturday night so it is off to the theater with me sort of deal.

    Some of the things I regularly do include going shopping for groceries. Staying home and reading a book. Puttering about on my computer.

    I think the act of presenting myself as the first sort of person through the dating process with the goal of getting someone interested in the me who is the second sort of person is stupid beyond belief.

    I buy into the entire looking for a best friend approach to relationships. The last long-term relationship I had was built along that model. And while there were certainly some nice dinners out and trips to plays during the time we were together, there was a heck of a lot more going to the grocery store together, picking out food to cook, going home and making dinner, and then curling up on a couch together as we read from our own books and shared the best passages with each other.

    And so my approach is to make friends, and hang out with people through the normal course of my life. Occasionally I find I have a friend I especially like spending time with and at that point I might arrange to spend more time with her… but generally still in hangout and mundane capacities.

    My approach may be far from ideal. “Upgrading” a “friendship” to a “relationship” comes with its own set of problems. But it is an approach that brought me great happiness once and I hope that it is an approach that will eventually turn out in my favor again.

    In the meantime I roll my eyes at the dating process and curse the hook up culture for making it more difficult to ask a girl back to my place for dinner and a movie… because when I say it I really do mean it at face value and not as code for sloppy makeouts.

    • Paul Roth says:

      Thanks for your well-thought-out comment, Jason!

      I prefer dating friends, also. I devoted some time in the “Deciding” section to talking about how I approach dating someone with whom I don’t have a great familiarity, but that’s not my preference. I’d much rather know someone, think she’s a lovely person and friend, and then ask her out on a date.

      But I eventually run out of those candidates who are single, available, and seem interested. And then I have to venture into the realm of dating kinda-strangers.

      But again, I’m with you–I’d rather “upgrade a friendship”.

      However, I disagree with what I interpret as your approach of hanging out and doing the mundane things as the core of dating. That’s the core of life, not dating. And when you get into a relationship with someone, naturally those activities will be shared.

      But if the only difference between my life when I’m not dating and my life when I am dating is that there’s someone else there, and I do all my usual things as if I were alone? Then my date isn’t adding much to my life and I’m not adding much to hers. When I date someone, I love those daily activities, but I also love expanding my horizons and doing things with a partner that I might not do on my own.

      Have you never thought, “Well, that could be fun! It might be even more fun if someone did that with me!” even once? I think it all the time. If you never want anything new in your life or to try new things with someone by your side, then dating’s probably not for you. And that’s fine!

      But I, personally, do want to explore new things with a partner who’s just as interested in the discovery. Dating, putting effort into figuring out new adventures we can have, trying new things together that aren’t in my typical day? I like that a lot.

  4. Laura says:

    I’m so glad you wrote this! I think you’re a pretty fantastic person, and this is a really good dating philosophy. I’m with Rita on the missing being asked out. I’ve been a lot more of an initiator in the past year or so, but after a while, it’s just so nice to have someone essentially say, “Hey. I think you’re pretty special, and I’ve put effort into asking you to go on a date with me, and I’ll treat you special because you deserve it.” Rather than, “Hey you’re hot… sure I’ll screw around. Wanna get a drink too?”

  5. Sarah says:

    Interesting post, Paul.

    I’m a little wary of the “escalate or disengage” bullet point.

    • Paul Roth says:

      That does sound a little scary all by itself, doesn’t it? The bullet point didn’t capture the “don’t push it; don’t be an ass” detail I put into the preceding paragraphs. WILL EDIT!

  6. Jasmine says:

    As women, we’re socially conditioned to take a passive role in dating, waiting around for men (if we’re straight) to notice us and validate our existences as desirable beings – and it’s counterproductive, harmful, and we all need to reject that.

    Also, I feel like a lot of women fall into the trap of waiting for a fairytale courtship, which is kind of unfair to guys, and really unfair to ourselves. Cultural norms have shifted – there’s very little formal courting any more. That, in and of itself is not a bad thing. It doesn’t really matter how you meet and get to know someone – it’s how you end up treating them. A guy can initiate a sloppy makeout sesh at a bar, take her home, bone her, make her an awesome breakfast in the morning and begin a great relationship. On the other hand, a guy can do the traditional “I’d like to take you out for dinner tomorrow at 7:00 pm” thing and then proceed to be a total douche. I’m not saying that women should “settle” – standards are essential, but dismissing a guy because he’s not the Prince Charming you’ve been building up in your head for decades is ridiculous.

    That said, there is definitely a huge grain of truth to the idea that guys in metropolitan cities have a tendency to be total douchemonsters because they can. They have their pick of gorgeous, educated, great women and they know there are no consequences for being a sucky person because they can always find another woman. It’s terrible.

    It would be great if everyone could grow up, communicate, have grounded expectations, and treat each other with respect.

    • Paul Roth says:

      You are definitely correct that good guys and bad guys can start off a dating situation in ways opposite to what I suggested! Everyone should be evaluated for their own merits rather than my sweeping generalizations.

      It’s just hard for me to shake the feeling that a guy who starts things off with little effort will not put consideration into dating later on. I do suppose that a guy who puts on a good dating show could be a jerk later on– they can disguise themselves!

      I’d just like for women not to settle, mostly.

  7. Rita says:

    I miss being asked out on dates. It doesn’t happen often. In fact, I don’t remember the last time someone actually asked me out. Other than the mutual agreement of an online date to meet for coffee. I miss it. I can’t wait till it happens. But in the meantime, I have no qualms about asking. I’ll let you know how it goes.

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